The first major trophy of the English season will be up for grabs on Sunday when Chelsea take on Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley.
It is that time of the year, when two sides from England have their first shot at winning a major trophy. Chelsea and Manchester City, who have both won the EFL Cup five times, will have a chance to win the competition for the sixth time when they lock horns at Wembley on Sunday night in what will be the 59th final of tournament.
Chelsea reached the Carabao Cup final by beating Tottenham Hotspur in penalty shootouts, after their semi-final had ended 2-2 on aggregate. The Blues have also notched up wins over Liverpool, Derby County and Bournemouth en route to the finale date with Manchester City.
City, who are currently the League Cup holders, had a relatively straightforward passage through to the final, beating Oxford United, Fulham, Leicester City and Burton Albion, with the semi-final tie against Burton seeing them romp to a 10-0 aggregate win.
The Blues though, have been going through an inconsistent run of form, having been beaten in three of their last six games by a staggering aggregate scoreline of 12-0, a run of results that has heaped the pressure on Maurizio Sarri. But, Chelsea showed a few signs of bouncing back to form with a 3-0 win over Malmo in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
Manchester City, on the other hand, have won each of their last five games, with the memories of the 2-1 loss to Newcastle United now looking like a bad dream. The Carabao Cup holders warmed up for the game against Chelsea with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over FC Schalke 04 in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.
The sides have met each other thrice already this season, with the most recent clash seeing City hand a 6-0 mauling to Sarri’s men. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Carabao Cup encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Maurizio Sarri could be without six first-team players on Sunday evening. But, it is the uncertainty surrounding the availability of first-choice goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga that is leaving the Chelsea boss and fans alike worried ahead of the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City.
The world’s most expensive goalkeeper is struggling with a hamstring injury, and is a major doubt for the Wembley fixture. If fit, there is no looking past Kepa for the game on Sunday, but Willy Caballero will deputize in goal for the Spaniard if he fails to regain fitness in time.
Apart from Kepa, Gary Cahill (back) and Danny Drinkwater (tendon) are also doubtful, although neither player is a regular anyway. Another bit-part player, Davide Zappacosta is now available after recovering from a flu, but Cesar Azpilicueta should keep his place on the right side of the Chelsea defence against City.
The rest of the backline should ideally remain the same as well from the 3-0 win over Malmo, although David Luiz could return in place of Andreas Christensen in the central defensive partnership with Antonio Rudiger. Marcos Alonso though, might not displace Emerson Palmieri at left-back, after the latter’s solid showing in Europa League.
In midfield, N’Golo Kante and Jorginho are certain starters in the biggest of games, even though Jorginho has not quite been at his best lately. The final spot in the middle of the park could be taken up by Ross Barkley after a strong performance in the midweek European game, and the Englishman will be keen on making amends after a horrific showing the last time he faced Manchester City.
Up ahead in attack, Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain pick themselves in games like the one when they face Manchester City. Callum Hudson-Odoi is in contention to start after impressing against Malmo. So is Pedro, who has recovered from a stomach bug. But, Willian should keep his place in the side after a solid outing in Europe.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Caballero; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley; Willian, Higuain, Hazard
Pep Guardiola has concerns over the availability of four players, with Claudio Bravo (Achilles) being a long-term absentee. The quartet in question though, is Fabian Delph (illness), John Stones (groin), Benjamin Mendy (knee) and Gabriel Jesus (hamstring).
All four players were due to face a fitness test on Saturday in order to determine their availability for the Carabao Cup final and their place in the matchday squad is touch and go. Guardiola though, still has plenty of cover within his squad, as far as the Chelsea game is concerned.
In Delph and Mendy’s absence, Oleksandr Zinchenko has stepped up admirably, and should keep his place in the side as the Manchester City left-back. At the heart of the defence, Nicolas Otamendi and Aymeric Laporte are expected to continue, while Kyle Walker is a certain starter on the right flank.
Behind the defence, Arijanet Muric is contention to start the biggest game of his career, with Guardiola iterating the same during his pre-match press conference. But, Ederson Moraes should get the nod against a Chelsea side that has the potential to produce the goods in final third on their day.
Meanwhile, Guardiola is likely to focus on controlling the midfield, which means Kevin De Bruyne should have David Silva as his creative partner in the middle of the park, with Fernandinho playing the Anchor Man role in from of the defence.
In order to transition the controlling factor from midfield to attack, Bernardo Silva should start in the front trio once again, with Sergio Aguero leading the line for Manchester City. Raheem Sterling will take up the final slot in the side, meaning Leroy Sane misses out once again.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Laporte, Zinchenko; De Bruyne, Fernandinho, David Silva; Bernardo Silva, Aguero, Sterling
- Chelsea and Manchester City are set to face-off in a League Cup final for the first time. Both sides have won the trophy five times previously, with only Liverpool winning it more often (eight times).
- Excluding Community Shield matches, Chelsea and Manchester City have only met in the final of a competition on one previous occasion – the 1985-86 Full Members Cup final at Wembley, which remains the highest scoring final in Wembley history – the Blues narrowly won 5-4.
- Manchester City, who beat Arsenal in last year’s final, are looking to become only the fourth team to retain their League Cup crown in consecutive years, after Manchester United (2009 and 2010), Liverpool (four years between 1981 and 1984) and Nottingham Forest (1978 and 1979 & 1989 and 1990).
- Since the start of the 2012-13 season, no player has been involved in more League Cup goals for a Premier League side than Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (14 – 8 goals, 6 assists).
- Should one, or more, of Manchester City trio David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero score, they could become the first players to score in back-to-back League Cup finals since Didier Drogba did so for Chelsea in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
Player to Watch
All through the season, Chelsea have had the problem of depending too much on Eden Hazard, who has quite easily been the Blues’ best player this season. Gonzalo Higuain’s arrival in the January transfer window was supposed to take some of the burden off the Belgian superstar, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud struggling to be prolific customers in front of goal.
But, the Argentine too, has not managed to rid Chelsea off the long-standing problem, having managed to find the back of the net in just one of the five games he has played so far. Having said that, Higuain had looked the likeliest to score against City a couple of weeks ago, and a step up in level could see him return to goalscoring ways.
A big game beckons – a game that could make or break Maurizio Sarri’s future at Chelsea. And, Higuain’s contribution could go a long way in deciding that future.
Chelsea 1-3 Manchester City
The haunting memories of the 6-0 loss to Manchester City a couple of weeks ago might still be fresh in the minds of the several Chelsea players, if not all. That loss, coupled with a few others, have put Maurizio Sarri’s future under the scanner, while news of a transfer ban imposed on them by FIFA has been another dampener.
On the other hand, it has all been positive news for Manchester City lately, with goals starting to flow again for the Carabao Cup holders. All signs thus, point towards another win for Pep Guardiola’s men, although Sarri is likely to have learnt a lesson or two from the recent rout.
Expect Chelsea to be far more competitive in Sunday’s game, although Manchester City should still largely be comfortable. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Guardiola & co. to retain their Carabao Cup crown.